Overlanding through China

by Daniel Maxwell – Mar 2nd, 2020

Regardless of where you visit and how you travel, a trip to China is an unforgettable experience, but what could be more amazing experience than overlanding from one side of this fascinating country to the other?  

During September and October last year, Evelin and Ferenc undertook the challenging but highly rewarding feat of driving from China’s northern border with Mongolia to the country’s southern border with Laos. Their adventure, which covered over 5,000 kms and was completed in their own vehicles, gave them a rare opportunity to visit places rarely seen by foreigners, glimpse rural life in China which has remained unchanged for generations and witness some of China’s most awe inspiring scenery. 

Evelin and Ferenc’s experience, which is detailed in their overlanding blog, provides valuable insights for anyone interested in exploring China by vehicle and seeing areas of the country which remain beyond the realm of the usual travel itinerary. 

For anyone considering an overlanding adventure through China, the advice is go for it, although you will need to spend sufficient time planning and preparing for such a trip.

As Evelin explains, ‘Overlanding through China is a whole new ballgame altogether. Not only do we need to apply for an unusually long visa that should be valid for 40-50 days, but during the last few months, we also needed to find a tour operator that will guide us through this massive country. You’re simply not allowed to just show up at the border and enter the country, even if you have a valid visa.’

For example some of the preparation you’ll need to make will involve obtaining the following;

  • Permits, 
  • Licences,
  • Bureaucratic paperwork,  
  • Eye tests from a local hospital,
  • Vehicle technical checks,
  • Temporary license plates

Furthermore, you’ll need a Chinese guide who will be with you throughout the entire trip. 

OverlandSite also details how much a trip like this will cost, how to start organizing everything, and some interesting insights including how Chinese authorities in Xinjiang scanned their mobile devices – ‘Our phones were attached to a device that scanned it for about 10 minutes. I’m not sure what they were looking for –  perhaps emails or messages about Xinjiang or China itself.’

According to Eveline, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make when planning a trip like this, is choosing a tour company and a tour guide to accompany you. 

As foreigners are not allowed to drive through China without a guide, it’s essential to choose someone who’s helpful, understanding and good company – because you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person.

‘For a good experience while overlanding through China, you’ll therefore need a company who is willing to listen to your specific requirements (itinerary, camping, etc.), and a guide who’s easy to talk to and professional in handling all necessary paperwork and police dealings at checkpoints.’

Highlights of Evelin and Ferenc’s overland trip included; 

  • Xinjiang Province – a region of deserts, mountains, diverse ethnic groups and ‘the heart of the Silk Road’ China’s  
  • Tibetan culture – in Tibet and also in parts of historical Tibet which now belong to Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces.
  • Camping – being able to sleep under the stars in some of the most world’s most beautiful locations.
  • And of course, the people – ‘In general, anywhere we went in China, people were amazing. Everyone was very welcoming, taking photos with or about us. Locals even cooked for us in one of the tiny villages where we camped.’

If you have any further questions about travelling through China by vehicle, be sure to contact OverlandSite, they’ll be happy to help!